Artist Interview: Regin Igloria of North Branch Projects

Today we share an interview with Regin Igloria, founder of North Branch Projects, an artist-run organization that offers community bookbinding experiences and provides an outlet for exploring the creative process in places where few resources for the arts exist, or where the role of art may be viewed as secondary or insignificant. The studio community fosters an open approach to sharing work with new audiences and encourages collaboration and integration. North Branch Projects is part of our current exhibition The Tip of My Tongue, on view at Weinberg/Newton Gallery from Janauary 26 – March 17, 2018

The Tip of My Tongue is organized in partnership with the Chicago Literacy Alliance and aims to draw out the complexities of language as a tool not only for communication but also for connection, discovery, and growth. This group exhibition takes an expansive approach to the theme of literacy as it explores the many issues caught up in the web of words we each navigate, from notions of identity and belonging, to autonomy and self-expression. Through sound, color, book arts, and text, this group of works by six Chicago-based artists provides access points to a multiplicity of voices, ideas, viewpoints, and conversations.

Various handmade notebooks by North Branch Projects

Weinberg/Newton Gallery: Can you tell us a little about the history of North Branch Projects? What made you want to create this organization?

Regin Igloria: North Branch Projects began in 2010 as an extension of my studio practice. I started it to create some kind of crossover between opposing aspects of my life, specifically as a way to better understand my role as an artist in the places I inhabit. At the time, I was really feeling frustrated about my involvement in the contemporary art world. The deeper I immersed myself in it (my job as an arts administrator and teaching artist), the further I seemed to be moving from the people I grew up with, such as my family and people close to me who were not artists. I wanted to have both worlds meet in a non-judgmental way, where they could appreciate and learn from each other without getting cynical, angry, or further detached.

I say this mostly because the art world I was introduced to as a young teenager, as far as I can remember it, was a lifestyle so different than my own. It wasn’t just money and the way people around me looked; it was a complete attitude that was both profoundly repulsive and appealing to my senses. It’s been a turbulent relationship from the start (lol).

WNG: North Branch Project seems to function in a thoughtful, cyclical manner. Each initiative feeds into another in some way. The biggest of those initiatives being the Community Binding workshops where you teach individuals how to bind their own notebooks. What impact do you find these workshops typically have on the community?

RI: Community Binding is the driving force behind everything we do at NBP. It’s the reason for making new work and allows me to stay excited and motivated. The initial concept is based on using education as a tool for breaking down barriers, but it’s also about getting people to spend quality time together. Bookbinding is slow and methodical, so people end up slowing down and get into a relaxed mindset. I think this is so necessary these days.

In regards to impact, I hope it moves people in the right direction, wherever that needs to be. I don’t know how much it does this (this is too personal of a distinction and immeasurable), but certainly after a workshop, people seem to be in good spirits, and that goes a long way for everyone. Ultimately they reach and connect with others in a positive way and that is cyclical itself.

Regin Igloria leading a Community Binding workshop at Weinberg/Newton Gallery

WNG: You have two pedestal pieces included in The Tip of My Tongue, one at the gallery and one placed off site at Chicago Literacy Alliance’s Literacenter. These movable, interactive book stations are part of NBP’s Everything On Wheels project. Where do these stations typically live and how are community members invited to use them?

RI: The pedestals are meant to be roving interactive stations, so they don’t have a permanent home per se. They exist wherever people can come across them, usually while in transit or in a place they would routinely visit. With permission, my goal is to place them in spaces where there is high public traffic, like school hallways, libraries, or cafés. Here they can be perused and experienced on a regular basis by the same people. The call and response to the books’ question prompts become anticipated and hopefully something people look forward to seeing. Then, if they feel up to it, the next step would be to write or draw something in the book.

After some time inhabiting these spaces, I would ideally host a bookbinding workshop to magnify those spaces as learning environments. Those learning moments don’t have to be too profound or revealing, but I do hope making books instill some sense of joy or meaning to the participant. After a workshop, you walk away with a tangible piece of evidence of one’s “maker” capabilities. The significance of making something with your own hands doesn’t solely exist because you end up with an object. It comes from having met new people, or because you’ve now seen the space differently after having spent time sitting there trying to figure out how to sew pages together. In this regard, everything about a workshop is critical: who shows up along with you, what topics come up in conversation, the reason(s) you came to the workshop in the first place, even the weather outside. All of these environmental factors work together to make an experience. In so many cases, people finish the workshop telling me they are going to give the book to someone. You can’t ask for more than that.

It’s an interesting scenario because phones and social media/technology make these moments so prevalent wherever someone carries their phone. You can be learning anything available on the internet if you have a phone, but those bits of information seen on a meme or a short video feel so arbitrary and wispy, just like the cloud in which they exist. With a takeaway book, you get hit harder, but in a good way.

The Pedestal Planter, 2017 (left) & The Painted One, 2016 (right)

WNG: The podium pedestal on display at the gallery includes a participatory prompt for viewers to answer, “How do you bring together what wants to come apart?” What was the motivation behind this question? And do the prompts typically have a theme you try to adhere to?

RI: The prompt stems from my disillusionment of politics, the current divisiveness that we hear and experience everyday, and once again, the frustration of two opposing worlds. In general I try to keep the questions fairly broad and open-ended. I didn’t want to ask why Republicans don’t get along with Democrats and vice versa, for example. But I do want to see how far people might define a word such as “opposition,” especially through an empathetic approach with their audience.

All of the questions I use have been prompted through responses from other books. Just as our conversations have tangential trajectories, these questions start at one place and lead to another. We even have a book that asks people to “ask a question then leave a question,” but I don’t even think that book is necessary. I find new questions in every written response.

Baker College Prep student interacting with North Branch Projects' pedestal during a recent workshop at Weinberg/Newton Gallery

WNG: You also have an upcoming performance/workshop taking place at Weinberg/Newton Gallery on March 10 that’s based on this same idea of “bringing together what wants to come apart” -- can you tell our readers more about this ongoing project?

RI: This performance/workshop/gathering was initially done as a site activation piece for the Art Institute of Chicago during their exhibition, “Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test” last December. Several other individuals and organizations were invited to use one of the gallery spaces of the exhibition at different times during the run of the show, so I invited some friends and colleagues to work on a book project (one thing I did was try to limit inviting other “practicing artists” as part of my goal to create crossover). Initially I thought I’d just continue with a Community Binding Session, where we would just sit and make books for a couple of hours.

However, the setting seemed appropriate for more of a reading and listening session. Collaborating on pieces yields a broader range of responses, and I wanted the readers to contribute their thought processes and collect those as well.   

I asked individuals to share readings without knowing what the book form would take. I had been producing these single-sheet fold books in the basic 8-panel zine structure and felt it was also a good format for everyone to play with in response. These could be an entire thought written out, just a list of words, or even drawings, and the end result could be bound into a volume back at my studio and then sent back to the participants.

At the end, it felt like something I could repeat in other spaces, which I am doing at WNG this Saturday. I am hoping to continue the gatherings regularly, like a book club of sorts.

Be sure to attend “Bringing Together What Wants to Come Apart” this Saturday, March 10, 1-2pm to participate in this gathering and learn more about North Branch Projects.